Kit Review: Kanrin Maru by Woody Joe – Part 1

Judging from my blog stats, there seems to be some kind of interest in Woody Joe kits. So, I’m going to post here my first kit review of Woody Joe’s 1/75 scale Kanrin Maru kit. Keep in mind that I have yet to actually build this kit, so I can’t tell you how well it goes together or what pitfalls you may run into. What I can tell you is the apparent quality of the kit, when you get and what the instructions are like. Also, I spent 6 months working to get copies of the plans of the original ship from the Prince Hendrick Museum in Rotterdam, so I can say something as to the accuracy of the kit with respect to those drawings.

Note: Woody Joe kits are currently not distributed within the United States. So, purchasing one will require you go through a seller in Japan. I highly recommend buying from the place recommended to me by Woody Joe, called Zootoyz. They have an english language website, their prices are excellent (that is, they do not attempt to gouge the international buyer who may not know the actual retail prices of the kits unlike certain Japanese Ebay sellers), their shipping charges are very reasonable and they are easy to deal with, and the manager, Kazunori Morikawa, has been very helpful.

Their pricing is in yen, the Japanese currency, and rather than charging a fixed dollar amount, they charge at the current exchange rate. This is to their disadvantage right now with the value of the dollar so high against the yen. But, it means that their kits are cheaper as of this writing, so it’s a good time to buy.

The Kanrin Maru was Japan’s first screw steamer. To clarify some misconceptions, she was not the first Japanese ship to cross the Pacific – A Japanese-built galleon did that in 1614. The ship did not carry the first Japanese ambassadors to the US. Rather, she accompanied the USS Powhattan, which carried the embassy. Finally, the Kanrin Maru was probably not a good example of rapid Japanese mastery of the seas as the ship might not have completed the journey without the help of the American officer and sailors aboard who helped sail the ship when the weather turned violent, which was for most of the trip.

The Kanrin Maru was built by the Dutch in 1856 at the request of the Tokugawa Shogun shortly after Perry’s arrival. She was Japan’s second steam warship. The first being the Kanko Maru, which was the Dutch Navy paddlewheel steamer Soembing, presented as a gift from the King of Holland. The Kanrin Maru was primarily a sailing ship. Her small 100 horsepower engine was primarily for use maneuvering in and out of harbors and the ship carried only enough coal for 6 days of steaming.

For those interested in reading about the journey, the most complete information comes from John M. Brooke, the American officer who was given the role as advisor on the ship’s Pacific journey. At that time, Lieutenant Brooke (later to become the namesake of the Confederate’s “Brooke Rifle” and who would be involved in the construction of the C.S.S. Virginia), an accomplished scientist and engineer, had maintained a journal of his experiences at the time. These have been published in the book John M. Brooke’s Pacific Cruise and Japanese Adventure, 1858-1860.

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Versions of the Kanrin Maru Kits

There are actually 3 different Kanrin Maru kits that are made by Woody Joe. One of them is a large 1/50 scale kit, which was directly inherited from the old model company, Imai. I actually don’t know much about whether this was an acquisition or if the company changed its name or what. I also don’t have much information about the old Imai kit other than what I’ve seen listed on Ebay when these kits pop up, which is only rarely.

[I’ve only recently learned that the large kit is out of production for the moment, but is slated for an eventual re-release in a revised version]

In any case, the 1/75 scale Kanrin Maru is available in two versions. One version with sails and one without, both of which were released in 2010. The version I bought is without the sails and it is slightly cheaper than the sail equipped version. The main difference between the two, as can be expected, seems to be the lack of sail plan and sail material in my kit.

Also, the Kanrin Maru had a telescoping smoke stack and a lifting mechanism for the screw. So, on my kit, the stack fitting (turned wood) is in its raised position. I’m not sure if the screw (propeller) is any different. From the parts in the kit, it looks like you could simply attach it in a raised position.

Finally, there is a steam venting tube just aft of the stack that would be folded into a stowed position when the engines are not in use. Other than this, and probably a difference in instructions, the kits should be virtually identical.

Opening the Box

The box isn’t particularly large at about 24″ x 10″ x 2-1/2″. I didn’t bother to weight it, but one seller list the shipping weight at about 8.6 lbs. It is well illustrated and gives you a few views of the completed model as well as one of the skeletal framework.

The first thing you notice upon opening the box is how tightly packed the kit is. This is a very good thing as it keeps the parts from bouncing around during shipping and keeps the box size down, which can save money on shipping costs. I never really considered this until one distributor I was talking to told me about how he was trying to convince one of the other model manufacturers to get rid of some of the empty space in their kits by making the boxes smaller because it was costing a lot of extra money when shipping pallets of kits at a time. Bigger boxes = more pallets = more cost.

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The contents are what you would expect in a kit. There are two large plan sheets, one of which is double-sided. The instruction booklet is in full color, is 28-pages and well illustrated. The instructions are entirely in Japanese, so you either want to be able to read Japanese or have a very understanding Japanese friend or relative nearby. However, the illustrations are very clear and the parts are well labeled – VERY well labelled, in fact. So, with some ship modeling experience under your belt, you may very well be able to get through this on your own.

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A Little Japanese

If you can bother to learn to read the Japanese script called Katakana, that will go a long ways in your interest in Woody Joe kits. The nice thing about this script is that it is used pretty exclusively for foreign words, and sailing ships of this kind and the terminology that goes with them are pretty much all foreign imports. So,  you can get a lot of clues without actually knowing Japanese.

For instance, the text ミズんロアマスト says Mi-Zu-N-Ro-A-Ma-Su-To. And, if you say it really fast, you get Mizzen Lower Mast. Or ビレイピン = Bi-Re-I-Pi-N = Belay Pin for Belaying Pin. It’s actually kind of fun… But, in a nerdy sort of way, I suppose.

Of course, that only works for some of the text, but it’s helpful.

Organization of Parts

Looking through the kit, one of the first things you’ll notice is that everything is packed into separate plastic bags and these bags are individually labelled and numbered. There are three different sets of numbers, but they’re easy to distinguish because one set of numbers is for the metal parts, another set of numbers is for wooden parts and the third is for the miscellaneous materials. In the instructions, the numbers are circled and the background color indicates the part group. A red/pink background indicates a laser cut part, a blue background color indicates a metal part including brass, etched brass and cast metal parts, and a clear or white background is for wooden material and miscellaneous parts, including rigging material and plastic parts. These part number and color code are used to match up with the parts list on page 2, which is the inside of the cover of the instructions.

The larger laser cut parts are two sheets of 3mm plywood. This consists of the framework backbone on one sheet and the bulkheads and related pieces on a second, larger sheet. Other laser cut parts, and there are many, are divided up between 6 parts bags.

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The packages for the metal fittings are themselves stapled to heavy card stock, keeping the box well organized. According to an email from the manufacturer, these parts do contain lead, though the quality of the castings seem pretty high, and they seem very similar to Britannia pewter parts that are common in American kits. There is a possibility that there is some mistranslation here. But, to be on the safe side, I recommend that any metal parts be properly primed and painted to avoid any potential problems with deterioration later.

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There are some plastic parts in the kit, but these are limited to the ship’s boats and the rigging blocks. Those modelers who prefer not to use plastic on their models can easily replace these parts with those of their own choosing.

Rigging line is included on 5 spools. One spool is tan line and the others are all black and in four sizes.

Coming up next, A Closer Look at the Parts…

Read Part 2 

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